By Alissa Lopez
William Paterson University’s official mascot is Billy the Bear, but it might as well be William P. Woodchuck.
During the 2013 Groundhog Day celebration at WPU, William P. Woodchuck was the university’s own groundhog personality. During this university wide event Dr. Martin Becker, environmental science professor, informally acknowledged the character with several classes.
According to Becker, students gathered near groundhog burrows on the hill outside of Science West and held climate readings.
“I think they’re adorable. They’re these fat chubby things that just waddle around,” said Michele Ciz, a junior public relations major, with a smile.
Many groundhogs reside on campus. But don’t expect them to pop out of their burrows today since they don’t appear in Passaic County until March, said John Neasti, owner of Fischer Wildlife Control & Repairs, a privately owned animal removal, control, and repair service in Wayne, New Jersey.
Their burrows are still covered with leaves across campus, in what Becker described as “underground cities.”
Many groundhog holes can be found on hillsides next to rocks and stones.
“If you circumnavigate the center of campus, if you look hard enough, you’ll see them
up against the buildings,” said Kevin Garvey, director of physical plant operations at WPU
A campus map of groundhog burrows with GPS locations was created for the 2013
Groundhog Day ceremony.
Although their locations often change, “we can see them all the time. They are safe and mostly friendly, although they do cause some occasional unwanted erosion near sidewalks and structures,” said Becker.
Garvey said the university hasn’t had an issue with the groundhog population in the past couple years possibly because of environmental factors. But if there’s ever an influx of groundhogs on campus, they will be humanely trapped and relocated to the woods by an outside service.
Neasti laughingly said, “I love groundhog work… You have to get creative with ground digging animals.”
Groundhogs keep Neasti busy. Fischer Wildlife Control & Repairs receives a heavy concentration of groundhog related calls in the spring beginning with two to three calls a day in March and mounting up to three to five calls a day until the end of June.
As herbivores, the animals feed off of lawns, shrubbery, and flowers.
“There’s too many of them… they eat my garden,” said Ciz about her backyard tenants.
Homeowners often see the animal as a nuisance complaining about the same groundhog eating flora and living in their backyard year after year. But in fact, groundhogs only live up to a year and a half, said Neatsi.
That’s right: the famed Punxsutawney Phil who’s lived and predicted the weather almost 100% of the time for 130 years since 1886, according to Groundhog.org, isn’t in fact the original Phil.
And although groundhogs don’t live forever (or over 100 years for that matter), “[burrows] have eternal life,” said Neasti. Burrows built against walls can create foundational problems for sheds, basements, and even cemeteries, especially Hasidic Jew cemeteries.
Neasti recalled a job where about 100 people were gathered for the unveiling of the grave marker of a beloved rabbi. Hasidic Jews traditionally have two funerals for loved ones which are buried in a simple wooden coffin, the second called an unveiling which takes place a year later where a headstone is placed on the grave.
When the group returned to the burial site they were shocked when a groundhog emerged from the rabbi’s grave.
However, Garvey explained that the animals aren’t destructive at WPU. However, it’s unclear whether William-P. Woodchuck wreaked havoc on university grounds in his day.
“I couldn’t care less, honestly,” said Ciz in regards to groundhogs on campus and whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter or an absence of shadow, predicting an early spring.
Ryan Molenaar, a senior sports management major, doesn’t believe in the groundhog’s ability to determine the weather, but he still pays attention to what Punxsutawney Phil has to say whether he looks it up himself or someone tells him about it.
“Some towns have their own and if that one sees [its shadow] but Phil doesn’t see his, which one do I believe,” said Molenaar.
Even if today’s predictions from Punxsutawney Phil’s across the country turn out to be right, “it’s a cultural tradition,” said Garvey.
“Whether or not you believe it or you don’t believe it, you do realize that sooner or later spring is going to be here- and hopefully it gets here sooner than later.”